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The Tudor Period

1457 - 1603: When Henry the Eighth dissolved the monasteries, the Church abandoned all road repair work. It hadn’t been much but now there was nothing. So Henry ordered parishes to keep their ways passable. This arrangement was adequate for roads that the parishioners used themselves but proved unsatisfactory for the principal highways that were used by long-distance travellers and waggoners.

After Henry VIII’s death the country continued in religious turmoil through the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, swinging from Protestant to Catholic and back again.

During the whole of this time, nothing was done to improve the roads, and even during the long and relatively stable reign of Elizabeth the First, nothing was donr .

It seems impossible to our modern minds, but this is simply how things were. Improving roads was apparently beyond either the organisation, the finances or perhaps the needs of society.

Incidentally, Henry instigated the first ever postal service. It was for the exclusive use of the king and involved riders who would take messages to destinations across the nation.

These riders could presumably travel across country, but the roads on which carts with goods travelled continued to be dreadful.

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The landscape was very different from today. Apart from the grand houses of the landed gentry, only a few areas in towns and villages were enclosed, so the patchwork of fields and hedgerows that we know today simply didn’t exist. Roads consisted of trackways across open countryside.

They had no structure or foundation so they followed the firmest ground. Where it was relatively stable the road would be narrow but where it was softer, it became deep muddy ruts. And when floodwaters rendered it impassable, the waggons, carts, and laden horses went wide and struggled past each other using the nearest firm spots. Sometimes, the road would become hundreds of yards wide. In winter such areas would often become impassable and all travel would cease until the following year when the weather improved.


Next: The Stuarts

Section 3:

The Roads

Introduction

The world of long-distance coach travel

Ancient Trackways

The first roads

Celtic Trading Routes

The Celts were trading across Europe and although nothing remains of their roads, they must have followed fixed routes

Roman Roads

The Romans built roads, famously straight. These are the first roads that we in England are familiar with

The Middle Ages

After the Romans left, our roads fell into disrepair. Find out what happened

The Tudors

After the dissolution of the monasteries, even the church’s work ended

The Stuarts

During the Stuart period the first beginnings of improvement appeared

Thomas Mace

The first proposal to improve Britain’s roads

The Blind Roadmaker

The first person to take active steps to improve the roads

Thomas Telford

As pressure for improved transport links grew, this engineer made a real difference

John McAdam

Perhaps the most famous roadmaker, His method is still essentially in use today

Turnpikes

Britain’s roads at last allow fast long-distance travel 

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‍ Part 1: Living Memories

Anecdotes written by people who actually travelled on the coaches

Part 2: The Age of Coaching

The coachmen, the inns, the coach proprietors - they’re all here. Come in and meet them

Part 3: The Roads

Britain’s roads were pretty impassable for most of our history.  Coach travel was very difficult until they improved

Part 4: The Coaches

Wheeled transport evolved over many years. Find out how coaches developed

Background

Sources and information about how I came to create this website

Home Page

Home Page of the Coaching Website

The Tudor monarchs - Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I

An unmade road in wet weather